Review: Are You Listening Now? (Five Foot Productions)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 2, 2019
Playwright: Xavier Coy
Director: Ed Wightman
Cast: Martin Bell, Xavier Coy, Fiona Mahl, Emily J Stewart
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review
Mez and Gaz are intruders in a 6-million-dollar house, with intentions not only to burgle but also to teach the affluent homeowners a lesson. Even though Xavier Coy’s Are You Listening Now? makes its point about wealth distribution with no concern for subtlety, the message is nonetheless an important one. By embedding plenty of comedy and drama, the writer ensures his play to be an amusing one, and laughing about class is certainly a worthwhile activity, at these times of unprecedented prosperity for the top end of town.

Directed by Ed Wightman, the staging is energetic, with a high level of intensity fortifying the hour-long piece. Coy himself performs the role of Gaz, adept at delivering laughs in his portrayal of a surprising innocent. His criminal mentor Mez is played by Fiona Mahl, who in her strongest moments, can prove impressively convincing. Emily J Stewart is riveting as Claudia, one-half of the rich couple under siege, a persuasive presence who brings much needed nuance to the production. Multimillionaire Charles is a predictable personality that Martin Bell is able to make believable, for a familiar portrayal of Sydney-style privilege.

It is sometimes surprising to observe the degree to which Australia has embraced neo-liberalism. For generations we have prided ourselves on our egalitarianism, but it appears that greed is truly indomitable. The moral at the centre of Are You Listening Now? is timeless and pertinent; money is a complex beast that if left unchallenged, will inflict harm and turn us inhumane. Mez’s refusal to obey rules that are designed to subjugate her, is admirable, but without compatriots joining her rebellion, we see that a one-woman movement can amount to nothing more than empty gestures.

www.facebook.com/fixedfootproductions

Review: Brown Skin Girl (Black Birds / Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 9, 2019
Playwrights: Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea, Angela Nica
Director: Ayeesha Ash
Cast: Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea, Angela Nica

Theatre review
Three mixed-race women offer their perspectives as young Australians living while brown. In Brown Skin Girl, creators Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea and Angela Nica are themselves on stage, delivering autobiographical accounts of challenges faced by women of colour, on a land that although never was ceded to white colonists, has had to struggle with racism since the very dawn of European invasion. The work arises from dark experiences, but it is a passionate and brilliantly joyful encounter that results, featuring anecdotes, observations and sheer poetry that aim not only to bring light to what is normally repressed, it proves to be immensely uplifting, especially for those of similar backgrounds.

The women have fathers who are African-American and Cherokee, Grenadian, and Tongan, so their appearance makes them a target, of constantly being othered in a society that never fails to exert its whiteness, no matter how much we call out its illegitimacy. This absurdity is effectively transposed into comedy, and the show is uproariously funny, with all its subversive and critical denunciation of the prejudices being perpetuated on people of colour. Ash, Havea and Nica are extremely appealing personalities, warm and effervescent, charming even when dispensing their most cutting beratements. Their chemistry is honed to perfection, on a stage replete with fiery, feminine confidence.

As people of colour, we need to be the ones to lead this nation’s discussions on race. The project of dismantling white supremacy in our spaces and structures, simply cannot be left to the powerful. We need to remember that there is little incentive for them to change the way things are, even as they profess a seemingly genuine desire to help better our communities. We must stop being fearful of radical thought and action, and at the same time, learn to manipulate these broken systems to our advantage. This will require our coming together, our refusal to be kept apart by a white patriarchy that benefits from our fractured and dispersed existences. Brown Skin Girl is a rare moment in Australian theatre, that does not imagine a white audience; it dares to speak to its own, and for once, the minorities in the audience feels seen. This is the beginning of empowerment, where hopes can begin to turn into reality.

www.black-birds.net

5 Questions with Romy Bartz and Enya Daly

Romy Bartz

Enya Daly: If our characters, Huldey and Agatha, went on the X Factor, who do you think would get further in the competition?
Romy Bartz: Agatha is the ultimate strategist and excels in competition. Although her singing voice may leave something to be desired, she would surpass Huldey and most likely go on to win X Factor. She would locate a weak spot in each contestant and use it to destroy them, pegging them off one by one until, by default, she was the last one stranding. Simon Cowell would be gobsmacked, but there you have it.

What have you learned from the character you’re playing, Agatha?
I am learning to be still and let other people do the work. I am learning to squash self-doubt and maintain a sense of self-assurance at all times. Agatha is incredibly ambitious and single minded in the pursuit of an objective. She is not afraid to use unorthodox methods to get what she wants, and she has an unwavering belief in her own power to bring about change. I love this, and I delight in playing such a strong and uncompromising woman!

What is your favourite stage of working on a production?
Definitely the technical rehearsal. The cast and crew are all trapped in a darkened theatre for around 12 hours and slowly the world of the play starts to form. All the elements – lights, sound, set and costume – are integrated like puzzle pieces and you sort of allow yourself to be enveloped by it. It can feel quite magical.

Do you keep a diary? If so, tell me (and the nosy public) the best secret you’ve got in there. If not, tell me the secret you WOULD put in there.
I kept diaries all through my teens and into my early twenties. I still have them somewhere. The ravings of a pubescent, emotional wreck! Everything that every happened went into them. I’m sure most of it was ‘shameless’, saucy and highly passionate. The secret that I would put in my diary, if I had one today, would be that I am terribly attracted to red heads who play the lute.

Have you ever harboured murderous thoughts about a sibling? Please elaborate.
No, but my children, who are two years apart, harbour murderous thoughts about each other constantly. Harbouring may not be the right word, more blatant thoughts constantly manifesting as violence. I suppose there is nothing more frustrating than sharing the space with someone who has known you forever and knows exactly which buttons to press in order to achieve maximum results.

Enya Daly

Romy Bartz: What do you enjoy most about playing Huldey and what are the challenges?
Enya Daly: I love her heart. She’s been given more than enough reason to be guarded and cold, but has miraculously remained earnest, transparent and hopeful. I think the most challenging thing about this play, from a technical standpoint, is finding and maintaining the lightness of touch and truthfulness required to make the comedic moments sing.

What was it about the play, The Moors, that made you want to audition?
Honestly, when I read the audition brief, I smelt the whiff of a period drama costume and thought, “I’m there!”. I’m a period drama fanatic. I love how heavily loaded with subtext and coded behaviour they are. When I discovered that this play is not a traditional period drama but takes that familiar form and turns it on its head by subverting traditional representations of gender, I was hooked.

If Huldey had a gaming avatar, what would it look like?
I’m visualising a gauche combination of Daenerys Targaryen from Game Of Thrones, Miss Scarlet from Cluedo and Carmen Sandiego (that last one is for the 90s kids). The design should clearly be an attempt to conjure up an air of mystery and intrigue. The more elaborate, the better.

If Huldey was alive today in Sydney, Australia what would her circumstances be?
There is no doubt in my mind that she’d be a budding social media influencer. She’d have an Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube channel, Twitter and blog. Somehow, I think she has what it takes to be quite a fabulous social media influencer. She’s dramatic, loves attention and has no filter. A long-term goal of hers would be to have her very own reality TV show. She’d definitely still be living with, and supported by, her parents.

What is your favourite part of the rehearsal process?
I love the freedom you feel when you’ve gotten off book but are still sculpting each moment in the piece. I find that stage of rehearsal to be very playful.

Romy Bartz and Enya Daly can be seen in The Moors by Jen Silverman.
Dates: 8 Feb – 1 Mar, 2019
Venue: Seymour Centre

5 Questions with Eddie Orton and Elijah Williams

Eddie Orton

Elijah Williams: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not acting?
Eddie Orton: I love sport. Watching it, playing it, reading about it. I’m from Melbourne originally so AFL was my first love. None of this rugby league rubbish. A lot of my family is in Melbourne so I love seeing them.

What quality do you bring to the role of Mikey?
I think there’s of lots of things that I have been discovering about the character with Warwick the director. I would say I inherently bring a physicality to the role. The sporting background helps with that kind of thing.

What challenges have you experienced trying to break into the Sydney scene from Melbourne?
I was surprised that it’s totally different up here. Not bad different just different. I was told a lot at Uni that there was tonnes of crossover but having just Melbourne credits doesn’t necessarily mean a lot here. I’ve just tried to meet people and make friendships. Those genuine friendships through work and so on have lead to fun things happening.

Who do you look up to?
My family. My parents were very supportive of me deciding to do acting at the end of Year 12. My two older brothers who aren’t actors have been amazing as well. My parents and brothers are just good people. Open minded, hard working and caring. Couldn’t ask for more.

If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?
I think I’d be in sports coaching in some way. I wasn’t good enough as an athlete to take that further, so coaching would be a great way to stay involved.

Elijah Williams

Eddie Orton: What part of the play are you most excited about?
Elijah Williams: I’m looking forward to bringing these two characters to life for the audience. And in particular holding up a mirror that reflects the time and age we currently live in. One filled with humour, friendship and sacrifice. It’s not every day that you also get to perform with such an awesome person such as Eddie, and this process has essentially bought us together, so sharing the story with him is a major phase that I’m excited about.

What do you like most about acting?
I love unearthing stories and pasts, and in particular learning about characters and imprinting a part of your soul in their world and life.

Who is your favourite actor?
I respect and appreciate everyone that is an actor because it is bloody hard to do. However, it comes down to Denzel Washington and Samuel L Jackson. Because of their dedication to the craft and the impacts and change that they have brought for many African actors.

Who has been your most influential mentor?
Suzanne Millar and John Harrison along with the women at Sophie Jermyn management have been my biggest pillars of mentorship. Starting in the industry without any formal training, they helped greatly in making the transition and learning process easy and enjoyable whilst pushing me to be a better actor and person in the same breath. I owe a lot of thanks to my coach Cathy Walsh, who outside the acting world trains me for track and field, an aspect of my life which I am very passionate about. Over the years she has taught me the value of a hard word, discipline and dedication. And the notion that doing something that one is passionate about, isn’t work.

If you could have one last meal, what would it be?
I LOVE FRIED CHICKEN and ice-cream. Separately!! NOT TOGETHER. I would smash a few kilos of chicken followed by a massive serving of ice cream, either raspberry or mango and roasted coconut. And for dessert I would have some rice and eat it one grain at a time, just to draw the process out a bit.

Eddie Orton and Elijah Williams can be seen in If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You by John O’Donovan.
Dates: 8 – 23 Feb, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: The Iliad Out Loud (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 23 – 27, 2019
Playwright: William Zappa
Director: William Zappa
Cast: Blazey Best, Heather Mitchell, Socratis Otto, William Zappa
Images by Lisa Tomasetti, Jamie Williams

Theatre review
Homer’s ancient poem is adapted and abridged in William Zappa’s The Iliad Out Loud, first for radio, and now for the stage. This iteration of the epic stretches across three parts, each three hours long, presented by four actors and two musicians, in the form of a staged reading. It takes after what is believed to have happened in 8th century BC, when the original was performed, to be heard and not read. Zappa’s text can easily be repackaged as a novel, and often we wonder if that would have been a better format, especially during the very many drawn out battling sequences, which require only visualisation and no analysis on our part.

This condensation of events would likely be more rewarding for those who are already fans of the story. A thrilling ride for some can prove an ordeal for others, as the production routinely rushes past character development to cover significant occurrences. Without sufficient background understanding of personalities, we struggle to resonate with their trials and tribulations in all the warfare, that Zappa so exhaustively conveys.

Michael Askill and Hamed Sadehi are musicians and stars of the show, a two-man band that makes a real art form of their accompaniment. In the absence of more conventional theatrical imagery, Askill and Sadehi pull out all the stops to stoke our imagination, adding infinite colour to the pages of words being dispensed. Lighting by Matt Cox too, is inspired, with a series of elegant transformations to illumination, helping guide us through states of emotion.

Zappa is an outstanding reader, full of dynamism on his stage, holding our attention with extraordinary ease, effortless in sharing his immense enthusiasm for a seminal work of his heritage. It is a confident cast that travels with us on this journey, impressive in their detailed familiarity with every twist and turn of the 9 hours.

The warring men blame their behaviour alternately, on one woman Helen, or on the gods Zeus and his ilk. Their inability to face their own culpability in all the conflict, feels an accurate reflection of every war in every era. It may not be true that women are never in favour of such brutality, but it is certain that none of these atrocities can ever be perpetrated without men. All the war heroes in Iliad can be thought of as good guys, and our continual inclination to excuse them of the horrors that they choose to enact, reveals, at least in part, why we remain in a perpetual cycle of bloodshed.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: Herringbone (Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 18 – Feb 2, 2019
Playwright: Tom Cone
Music: Skip Kennon
Lyrics: Ellen Fitzhugh
Directors: Jay James-Moody, Michael Ralph
Cast: Jay James-Moody
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
It was 1929, at the dawn of the Great Depression when eight-year-old George was assigned to be star of the stage, and bread winner at home. Billed as “a vaudevillian ghost story”, Tom Cone’s Herringbone tells the fantastical tale of George’s possession by a poltergeist named Lou who returns, determined to resume his prematurely terminated acting career. Wonderfully imaginative, with a flamboyant and quirky sensibility that transports us to realms of fascinating awe, the show also includes songs in a nostalgic style inspired by the era, all of them full of charm, certain to delight.

Jay James-Moody alone plays all ten of Herringbone‘s different characters, enthralling for the entire 90-minute duration. We witness superhuman talent, along with extraordinary skill and conviction, as the consummate storyteller takes us to the farthest reaches of what theatrical magic can achieve. His technical abilities prove as moving as the palpable love he has for the art form, so clearly discernible on this stage. James-Moody (who also co-directs) allows himself to be completely vulnerable, so that we can come in contact not only with the humanity of the piece, but also the staggeringly delicate nature of live performance. Creating theatre, especially at this intimate scale, is to fly without a safety net, and when we see the work soaring, the inspiration that it provides is incomparable.

Choreography by co-director Michael Ralph is thoroughly inventive, with a jubilant spirit that makes the experience an uplifting one (in spite of its dark themes). Adding to the visual splendour is Benjamin Brockman’s lights, extravagantly conceived to deliver luscious and dramatic imagery, much of which lingers on well after curtain call. Three musicians, Natalya Aynsley, Amanda Jenkins and Tom McCracken, electrify the space with their passionate interpretations of the score, having us impressed by their detailed and tight performance, no doubt due in large part to musical direction by Benjamin Kiehne.

Musical theatre is big business, and as such, much of what we see can tend to be predictable and formulaic. Even if there is undeniable professionalism on display, all the money in the world can never guarantee that our soul is touched by a production. Commerce is always risk averse, and by the same token, it can often be fearful of ingenuity and all things ephemeral, ingredients that great art can never do without. Herringbone has a little bit to say about how we care for children, but it is the very application of artistry, and the collaboration of disciplines, that makes this show so exquisite.

www.squabbalogic.com.au

Review: The Big Time (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jan 18 – Mar 16, 2019
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Claudia Barrie, Zoe Carides, Aileen Huynh, Matt Minto, Jeremy Waters, Ben Wood
Images by Brett Boardman
Theatre review
Celia and Rohan are lovers in the film industry, both trying to advance their careers onto the next step. In David Williamson’s The Big Time, we see the dirty business of betrayal, jealousy and deception, operating in a dog eat dog world, in which integrity seems almost certain to make one a loser. Laden with cliché and implausible characters, the play’s narrative never manages to become convincing, even if the story does feel like it has been told a hundred times before. The shallowness of the people we meet may bear some semblance of truth, but there is little that we are able to relate to, in Williamson’s oversimplified depiction of their approaches to work and life.

As Celia, Aileen Huynh is able to bring some emotional intensity to the piece, but her sense of humour proves incompatible with what the show requires. Jeremy Waters’ energetic presence as Rohan helps to sustain our interest, particularly enjoyable in a handful of scenes with Ben Wood’s Rolly, in which we witness the only moments of chemistry on this stage. Director Mark Kilmurry keeps a close eye on performances, careful to prevent his actors from transforming the production into a campy farce, but the earnestness at which the show is calibrated, does make the experience somewhat lacklustre.

It is funny that we take show business so seriously. The billions of dollars poured into the entertainment industry can seem a waste of resources, but it reflects the lightness of our beings that can never be underestimated. We want to have a good time, and it can often seem that escapism comprises a substantial portion of our realities. Business does however, on occasion, make transactions with art, when a deeper investigation into the human condition can accompany the procurement of enjoyment. It is a rare beast that can combine things amusing with that which is truly important, and most of the time, we are grateful to encounter just one of those elements.

www.ensemble.com.au